Using stars, if books can ever be fairly classified in such a blunt way, this book requires five.
The first thing to note is that there isn’t much paradise here, even in the relatively mild climatic conditions of the south. Secondly, there are kings, legions of princes and princesses, and every kind of human ogre, and all have very tough lives, many characters hardly rising above the shitpits of crude existence. Generally, this is a story about the brutish nature of humanity, seen in the evil waves of real history and not just in these dystopian pages. The knife cuts every bit as deeply, with just as much pain, as in any human conflict. Little of it is truly fantastical, though we get a glimpse of fantasy spells in the final chapters, though nothing as far-fetched as fire breathing dragons in the first long tome of this eventual trilogy. The overall tone of the book is a plausible if dark read, and not at all one I recognise as fantasy genre. In fact, when fantasy elements crept in they didn’t seem to fit well at all. The balance of reality and wizardry is not my biggest problem here though, that being the overall weight of words.
There are two excellent 80,000 word stories in this long volume, plus 40,000 words of material to save for later. The quality of the writing easily sustained this reader, but as two books in a series, one about the south and one about the north, what is good reading could have been brilliant. The two main stories might be better weaved separately in the proposed series of books, rather than threading separately around each section by section. A minor grievance, as is often the case with indie authors, is that the editing isn’t always quite up to the quality of the descriptive writing, but all in all the production is very good. Some sections of the book, which may have faced late rewrites, are certainly less well chiselled.
I can see one reason for putting all this into one book, that being because the story of Ruka is just too bleak even for the dark side of grimdark, however that could be lightened considerably without losing the terror in his character. The story of the priestesses could easily be written lightly enough to act as a counterfoil, which to some degree it is anyway. I have to admit that a book focused simply on Ruka would have many readers reaching into their drug cabinet.
As mentioned, the book moves further from a classic dystopian genre towards fantasy as the abilities of Kale ‘mature’. In my view the ‘game of thrones’ feel of the script is strong enough without superpowers, and certainly Nell writes great storylines that really don’t need the escapology of supernatural talents. Exaggerated human skills, even out of body experiences, fit the foundations of the book’s world very well, but the creeping in abilities of Nordic gods, in my opinion, don’t.
My interested was sustained, I really wanted to get to the conclusion. However, when the end came we had already passed several far more powerful climaxes. That was certainly a disappointment, if one that isn’t uncommon in planned trilogies. Authors need to hold back some storylines of course, but the biggest ‘bang’ in every book in a series should be in its final chapters.
Would I read more by this author? Yes, for sure. But also note that I already feel I’ve read at least two of his books.
Under the One Child Policy, everyone plotted to have a son.
Now 40 million of them can't find wives. China’s One Child Policy and its cultural preference for male heirs have created a society overrun by 40 million unmarriageable men. By the year 2030, more than twenty-five percent of men in their late thirties will not have a family of their own. An Excess Male is one such leftover man’s quest for love and family under a State that seeks to glorify its past mistakes and impose order through authoritatian measures, reinvigorated Communist ideals, and social engineering.Wei-guo holds fast to the belief that as long as he continues to improve himself, his small business, and in turn, his country, his chance at love will come. He finally saves up the dowry required to enter matchmaking talks at the lowest rung as a third husband—the maximum allowed by law. Only a single family—one harboring an illegal spouse—shows interest, yet with May-ling and her two husbands, Wei-guo feels seen, heard, and connected to like never before. But everyone and everything—walls, streetlights, garbage cans—are listening, and men, excess or not, are dispensable to the State. Wei-guo must reach a new understanding of patriotism and test the limits of his love and his resolve in order to save himself and this family he has come to hold dear.
I have to hand it to Maggie Shen King—she takes several assumptions and trends, plays them out to their logical conclusion, and makes a dramatic book out of it. Plus I always enjoy speculative fiction that isn’t set in North America!
First, take the Chinese one-child policy. Add to that the preference for having a male child to inherit your goods. Mix in a good dose of authoritarian Communist party, which like most authoritarian regimes is ultra-conservative. This is the world that King introduces us to—where women are so scarce that men compete to be second and third husbands in polyandrous households. We meet Wei-guo, an excess male, who is rather desperate to become someone’s husband and the household that he aspires to join: that of May-ling and her two brother husbands.
Unattached young men are always a dangerous potential source of upheaval in a society, so despite the extreme shortage of women, the Chinese government frowns on single men. Many of these men, like Wei-guo, spend their free time playing war games out in the countryside, something that the government keeps close tabs on, seeing it as a potential challenge to the state instead of a way of venting aggression. Illogically, the government also disapproves of homosexuality, which really they should welcome in their demographic predicament. When the government disapproves of both of these safety values for their society, things are bound to go wrong.
All of these tensions come together to produce a human drama that is well worth your reading time.
Book Title: The Sandcastle Empire
Author: Kayla Olson
Narration: Andi Arndt
Genre: Dystopian | YA
Setting: A Mysterious Island
Source: Audiobook (Library)
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Main Characters: 3.7/5
Secondary Characters: 3.2/5
The Feels: 3/5
Theme or Tone: 4/5
Flow (Writing Style): 3.5/5
Backdrop (World Building): 4/5
Book Cover: 5+/5
Ending: 3.8/5 Cliffhanger: Nope.
Total: 3.5/5 STARS - GRADE=B-
The Sandcastle Empire was both languid and quick moving. Sort of like everything is draped in a heavy fog. The writing and Andi Arndt's narration gave most of the book this warm, fluid, and free-flowing feel. Until an action scene and then I found it difficult to keep up and comprehend the quickness of them. The dystopian world that this depicts has the potential to be so complex but isn't really fleshed out enough and neither were the characters, unfortunately. Mostly, it just left me feeling like I wanted more than what I got.
I've read that this is being made into a movie…it's possible, with the LOST-like island and its many pitfalls, that it might do well on the screen.
⇝Will I read more from this Author⇜ This is her debut, I believe, so I might. Especially, if they have such breathtaking covers…they pull me in every time.